Image of poll for reining horse welfare

NRHA Members and Reining Enthusiasts are being polled

As the international body governing and setting the standards, the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) has a vital role in the duty of care to the horses that are crucial to the sport of reining. As an organization, they have the power to set and influence the welfare and standards of the humane treatment of horses that is acceptable to the horse community at large.

The NRHA state in writing they can only take action on what is written in the Rule Book (handbook). The 2016 Handbook cites the intent of welfare but is focused on medications only. It does not set out any standards in relation to training and unacceptable practices at events such as jerking reins, excessive spinning and spurring which occur in the warm-up pens as set by the AQHA . There are no statements for prohibited equipment outside the judging arena.

The NRHA Professionals Code Of Ethics Program states it is governed, however, the NRHA Professionals state they do not govern any statements in the Code of Ethics, as they do not appear in the Rule Book.

All protests are heard behind closed doors demanding confidentiality of outcomes. They are assumed to be being heard and judged by their peers and often friends. There is no result announced and no record available of penalties, reprimands or other actions to allow.

The NRHA Must Change and Be Accountable and Transparent in relation to the welfare of reining horses and how trainers operate themselves as NRHA Professionals.

The reining horse and horse community at large have growing concerns for the welfare of the reining horse. The welfare statements and actions of the NRHA are currently not curbing problems beyond medication control. Their welfare statement is well below the standard of the respected American Quarter Horse Association.

Horses are suffering through excessive spurring, rein jerking, and spinning in warm-up pens; an example of what also occurs at home. The show managers, stewards, and marshals are ineffective as there are no constructive and definitive statements in the Rule Book to hold trainers and competitors to account. The goodwill gestures at best and often good friends of those that may well be crossing the line of acceptable animal welfare.

November 14th, 2016:   The awareness of this poll is now public and will be shared with tens of thousands of interested people showing a priority need for the NRHA for change. The Poll will remain live until acceptable improvements are made for reining horse welfare and trainers are accountable for their conduct. We have over 2000 votes already showing a desire from Reining Enthusiasts and NRHA members that change is wanted. The comments on our FaceBook page tell stories of why change is needed now.

Click here to take the Poll for Change. (now closed)

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Weekend Warriors Could be Silent Abuse

Could this be abuse Big Fella? Lugging excess weight is really putting pressure on the horse, say the scientists. The horse suffers just to satisfy the weekend warrior.

You have to ask “does the warrior consider all the factors of animal welfare or just focus on getting a winning run?”

An owner of a racehorse puts a jockey on the horse. The jockey has weight restrictions on them and thoroughbreds typically run on the basis of 10% weight on their backs, including saddles. They are deemed under heavy stress when they carry more than 143 pounds or 65 kilograms. And only a rare individual can win major races with that weight aboard. That are the rules for racehorses that are working at the top of their game with extreme fitness galloping over distance.

Consider the reining horse. It not only has to gallop, but they also stop hard, spin hard and may well have more stress and strain on them than a racehorse. Some are not even sufficiently prepared in fitness for the weekend runs.

In research presented in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, and published throughout the world as a benchmark and leading research paper, the weight carrying ability of a horse and its effects on them uncovered the degree of stress and soreness they experience.

The average weight of a quarter horse reiner standing 15hh weighs around 1000 pounds or 450 kilograms. Scientists say the correct weight carrying capacity of those horses is 15-20% of their body weight. With a saddle weighing an average of 55 pounds/25 kilograms, this allows for a rider weight of just 143 pounds/75 kilograms at a 20% ratio. The more intense the work required by the horse, the less weight it must carry.

The big heavy reining rider in this photo is an example of what some reiners are expected to carry. You can see the pressure over the horse’s kidneys and back with the downward curve in the horse’s loins. It’s not a photo angle, in fact, it looks worse than this from different angles.

We were informed this person is approximately 6 feet tall, and can potentially weigh 286 pounds/130 kilograms, if not more, plus tack. According to scientists, he should be riding a horse weighing in at 1550 pounds/700 kilograms. That would usually be a horse standing over 16.2hh with a solid build; like a warmblood. Or maybe not on a horse at all.

Should this person be riding futurity horses in a pen?

Big and/or overweight men and women, riding reining horses (and horses in other events) are causing consistent and maybe for some severe pain and suffering according to the researchers. While most healthy horses can easily carry a rider and saddle, they do have their limits, particularly in extreme reining maneuvers and all the time spent in the warm-up pen.

Researchers identified a threshold for when a rider is too heavy for a horse to comfortably carry them in normal riding. These researched horses were tested undertaking just walk-trot-canter, and not extreme moves of the reining pen. The additional stress of spinning, stopping and working at speed adds, even more, stress. The other allowance not considered is the stress on their legs hauling to and from events.

Reining horses are renowned for having the highest levels of hock problems and carrying excessive weight is just adding to this problem.

In the research, the heart rate was monitored, and plasma lactate concentration was determined in jugular blood samples pre-exercise, immediately post-exercise, and 10 minutes post-exercise, with serum creatine kinase activity determined at the same times as plasma lactate concentrations, with additional samples collected at 24 hours and 48 hours post-exercise. Muscle soreness and muscle tightness scores were determined using a subjective scoring system 24 hours before and 24 hours after exercise.

Heart rates remained significantly higher when the horses carried 25 and 30% of their body weight. Plasma lactate concentrations immediately and 10 minutes after exercise differed when horses carried 30% of their body weight compared with 15, 20, and 25% weight carriage.

Horses tended to have a greater change in muscle soreness and muscle tightness when carrying 25% of their body weight, and a significant change in soreness and tightness scores was found in horses carrying 30% of their body weight. Add extreme maneurvers and you have a horse that is suffering in silence, particularly when put back on the trailer for the trip home.

Interestingly, this research from the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute has concluded with the same weight guideline as to the US Calvary Manuals of Horse Management published in 1920.

Should there be a weight limit on those ‘Big Riders’ showing (even riding) reiners that are well over the limit?

Animal welfare or animal abuse is defined as using the horse to perform behaviors that cause physical or mental harm to the horse whether intentionally or not.

The weight a reining horse carries in warm-up pens and competition can greatly affect its health and welfare; there are limits to what a horse can carry.

Next time you look at a ‘big sized’ person aboard a reining horse, consider the stress and silent abuse the horse experiences while these people entertain themselves.

We are polling for change at the NRHA, don’t forget to vote here. Voting Now Closed


A late footnote: Overweight English Riders are Asked to Dismount at a Show  – click here to read the article.


Reference: Evaluation of Indicators of Weight-Carrying Ability of Riding Horses : Debra M. Powell, MS, PhD Karen Bennett-Wimbush, MS, PhD, Amy Peeples, AAS, BS,  Maria Duthie, BS. Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute, Wooster, Ohio